For Hannah Diviney, like so many other little girls, the world of Disney was one of adventures filled with characters who were the heroes of their own stories.
But the Sydney resident never saw herself in that dream world, and that’s something she now has a very real chance of changing.
Hannah lives with Cerebral Palsy and uses a wheelchair to move around.
Over the last few years she has made it her business to be a strong advocate for people with disability and now, at the age of 22, she is leading a push to have Disney put a princess with disability on the screens of children across the world.
She says creating a princess with disability will give millions of children the chance to see themselves as heroes in film and would work to “dispel the painful idea that many children subconsciously absorb - that life with a disability has to mean a life without joy, adventure, friendship or love”.
“Beyond that, you’d also be providing a powerful reference point for non-disabled children to understand us and our lives," explains Hannah.
"You would actively be creating a culture of tolerance, acceptance, empathy, and understanding to replace fear, confusion, and the seeds of bigotry that are often unconsciously sowed when we are confronted with something different that is hard to understand.”
In 2015, Hannah saw the Pixar film Inside Out and the idea of filling the void of representation of people with disabilities in Disney films was born.
“Inside Out is this really nuanced portrayal of mental health and illness, presented at a level where it was made understandable and accessible to children, when it’s typically not a child-friendly topic, but was also layered for an adult audience,” Hannah says.
“After seeing that, I thought the creation and inclusion of a disabled character was a pretty reasonable request.”
Hannah decided the first step was to gather support for the idea through a petition, titled ‘Create a Disney Princess with Disabilities’.
The petition received a flood of encouragement from the community and has already blitzed 50,000 signatures, which for Hannah is an extremely meaningful achievement.
“The fact that people have seen this idea, which was really born out of a deep and damaging childhood insecurity, and embraced it, basically feels like them telling that little girl I used to be and saying, ‘Hey it’s okay now! You belong with us’,” she says.
Many people who’ve come across the petition have also contacted Hannah to tell her about the difference that seeing themselves or their loved ones reflected in a Disney film would make.
“Those are my favourite messages in the world to receive! To know that I am not alone in how meaningful this would be is so validating and makes any negative pushback that I or the campaign have gotten well worth it,” says Hannah.
“Regardless of what the end outcome is with Disney, I’m super proud of what this campaign has come to mean to so many people and the countless conversations it’s opened around dinner tables everywhere on representation and why it’s so important.”
While the official target for the petition to reach is 75,000 signatures, or a full ANZ Stadium crowd as Hannah puts it, she knows there is work to be done alongside the signatory support she is collecting.
“I think now my main goal is to transfer all of the incredible support and momentum that we have here in Australia to a US audience because that’s where the big decisions and power for Disney as a corporation lies,” she says.
“It’s very much my plan to continue pushing to be on their radar in such a way that they really have no choice but to open the door to me and let me in the room.
“In order to do that most effectively, I’m also focusing on using people’s resources and support beyond the petition; working to create a story and character that is fully fleshed out, as well as animation pitches and all sorts of other things with some really wonderful creative people who have offered me their support and expertise. Basically, we want to make it really hard for Disney to say no.”
The petition can be signed at www.change.org/p/disney-create-a-disney-princess-with-disabilities.
Hannah also has a strong advocacy presence across social media, her own website, and as the Editor In Chief of global publication Missing Perspectives, which is a platform for sharing the stories of all women and girls to affect change in communities.